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Lawmakers, parents seek ‘Wyatt’s Law’ to protect kids

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Mount Clemens — State officials hope to pass legislation creating a “Wyatt’s Law” child abuse registry listing individuals with previous convictions for crimes against children.

The legislation, which officials Friday called the first of its kind in the country, was prompted by the efforts of St. Clair Shores resident Erica Hammel.

Hammel’s son, Wyatt, then 1, suffered severe brain injuries after he was shaken Nov. 1, 2013, by his father’s then-girlfriend.

The boy was hospitalized for seven weeks with temporary blindness, brain swelling, skull fractures and fractured ribs, Hammel said.

“It came in as a homicide case because they didn't expect him to make it,” she said.

Erica Hammel, left, mother of 2-year-old Wyatt Rewoldt, and Christyne Kadlitz, mother of Travis English, hug each other after the press conference.

Two years later, Wyatt’s speech remains delayed, he wears braces on his legs and has a shunt in his brain. He is scheduled for brain surgery Oct. 27 and eye surgery later this year.

Wyatt’s abuser, identified by Hammel as Rachel Edwards, was convicted twice on child abuse offenses charges before she assaulted Wyatt. Hammel did not know about the previous crimes, she said.

“I was furious, to put it lightly,” Hammel said of the discovery after Wyatt was injured.

Wyatt

The proposed package of three bills would create a child abuse registry to be administered by the Michigan State Police, require first- through third-degree offenders to register for 10 years and fourth-degree offenders for five years, and impose penalties on those who fail to register, officials said at a Friday morning press conference at the Macomb County Circuit Court.

Offenders also would have to pay a $50 yearly fee to the registry and promptly update their profiles after moving.

The proposed registry resembles the state’s existing sex offender registry, with offenders’ names, addresses, photographs, and a description of their convictions.

State Reps. Sarah Roberts, D-St. Clair Shores, Derek Miller, D-Warren, and Vanessa Guerra, D-Saginaw, joined Hammel at the Friday press conference inside Judge James Biernat’s courtroom. The representatives each sponsored one of the three bills.

Hammel said the registry would have given her information on Edwards’ crimes that she was unable to access through other online databases before Wyatt was injured.

Edwards pleaded no contest in 2011 to third-degree child abuse after spanking a child and leaving bruises, and was found guilty in 2013 of fourth-degree child abuse after drugging the same child with Seroquel, a drug used to treat bipolar disorder.

Edwards received probation for both convictions.

The two assaults were committed against 8-year-old Travis English Jr., who was around 3 years old at the time, according to his mother, Christyne Kadlitz, who was at Friday’s press conference.

The second assault took place just weeks before Wyatt was injured.

“If they would have locked her up...,” Kadlitz said, letting her words trail off. “The red flags were all there.”

After Wyatt’s assault, Edwards pleaded no contest to second-degree child abuse and was sentenced in February to 33 months to 10 years behind bars.

Edwards has maintained her innocence, Hammel said.

“She says she only pleaded because she wasn’t going to get a fair trial,” Hammel said. “She’s a monster.”

Hammel said she first became suspicious of Edwards prior to Wyatt’s abuse, when she was told the woman did not have custody of her own children.

Hammel checked Edwards’ name against the sex offender registry and other databases, but came up empty. She tried the state’s Department of Human Services, but those records are closed to the public, she said.

Still, she had a “gut feeling” Wyatt was not safe with Edwards.

“I begged the judge not to give (my ex-husband) overnights, but with no proof, he was given overnights,” Hammel said.

Roberts, the state representative from St. Clair Shores, said the child abuse registry should be an easy sell.

“This should absolutely fly through the Legislature,” she said.

State officials hope to pass legislation creating a “Wyatt’s Law” child abuse registry listing individuals with previous convictions for crimes against children.

If passed, the bills would give parents access to information “which (Hammel) so desperately sought before Wyatt was brutally injured,” Roberts said.

Also at the press conference Friday were dozens of members of the “Bikers Against Child Abuse” group, who routinely accompany children to court hearings in abuse cases.

The proposed legislation has roots in a Change.org petition created by Hammel about one year after Wyatt was injured. It currently has more than 16,000 signatures, Hammel said.

The bills were introduced Thursday into legislation, where they await assignment to a committee, Miller said. There is no known timeline of when and if a hearing will be held.

Officials on Friday also said an exact yearly cost to run the registry has not yet been determined. They said it would be comparable to the sex offender registry, which costs around $1.3 million a year.

“How much is a child’s life worth? How much is Wyatt’s life worth? We think the benefit far outweighs the price tag,” Miller said.

Meanwhile, Hammel on Friday said Wyatt still has a hard time in large, loud crowds but he goes to school five days a week and is learning to talk.

“Single words, like animals,” Hammel said. “He works so hard in therapy.”

Hammel repeatedly called Wyatt, who turns 3 years old Monday, her hero.

“He smiles every day,” Hammel said. “I tell him that his smile is going to change the world.”

HFournier@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4616

@HollyPFournier